Russia claims Avdiivka, Ukraine troops dug in at plant

Guy Faulconbridge and Tom Balmforth |

Ukraine says its forces are lacking equipment, particularly long-range weapons.
Ukraine says its forces are lacking equipment, particularly long-range weapons.

Russia has claimed the capture of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka after defences withdrew, but Moscow says some Ukrainian troops are still holed up in a vast Soviet-era coke plant.

The fall of Avdiivka is Russia’s biggest gain since capturing the city of Bakhmut in May 2023, and comes almost two years to the day since President Vladimir Putin triggered a full-scale war by ordering the invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine said it had withdrawn its soldiers to save troops from being fully surrounded after months of fierce fighting. Putin hailed the fall of Avdiivka as an important victory and congratulated Russian troops.

“The head of state congratulated Russian soldiers on this success, an important victory,” the Kremlin said in a statement on its website.

But Russia said some Ukrainian forces were still holed up at the Soviet-era coke plant, once one of Europe’s biggest, in Avdiivka, which is key to Russia’s aim of securing full control of the industrial Donbas region.

“Measures are being taken to completely clear the town of militants and to block Ukrainian units that have left the town and are entrenched at the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant,” Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

There was no public comment yet by Ukrainian authorities on this.

The Russian defence ministry said Russia had taken about 32sq km of territory in the advance amid heavy losses for Ukraine. It gave no figures for Russian losses, which Ukraine says are huge.

Avdiivka, which had a pre-war population of around 32,000 and is called Avdeyevka by Russians, was briefly taken in 2014 by Moscow-backed separatists who seized a swathe of eastern Ukraine but was recaptured by Ukrainian troops who built extensive fortifications.

US President Joe Biden had warned Avdiivka could fall to Russian forces because of ammunition shortages following months of Republican congressional opposition to a new US military aid package for Kyiv.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy requested more weapons at a security conference in Munich. (AP PHOTO)

A White House statement said Biden called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday to underscore the US commitment to continue supporting Ukraine and reiterated the need for Congress to urgently pass the package.

The White House said the withdrawal had been forced upon Ukraine “by dwindling supplies as a result of congressional inaction”, that had forced Ukrainian soldiers to ration ammunition and resulted in “Russia’s first notable gains in months”.

Zelenskiy urged allies at a global security conference in Munich on Saturday to plug an “artificial” shortage of weapons and said stalled US aid was imperative. He praised his troops for “exhausting” Russian forces in Avdiivka, and suggested the withdrawal was partly caused by a lack of weapons.

“Now, (the military) will replenish, they will wait for the relevant weapons, of which there simply weren’t enough, simply aren’t enough,” he said. “Russia has long-range weapons, while we simply don’t have enough.”

In a post on the social media platform X, Zelenskiy expressed hope that the US Congress would make a “wise decision”.

Capturing Avdiivka is likely to provide a morale boost for Russia ahead of Putin’s bid for re-election next month, which he is almost certain to win.

Putin congratulated the Russian commander in charge of the assault on Avdiivka, Colonel-General Andrei Mordvichev.

“Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in fulfilling the tasks of the special military operation!” Putin said in a telegram.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said Avdiivka showed the need for modern air defence systems to counter guided bombs and long-range weapons to destroy enemy formations. He said artillery shells were also needed.

Separately, at least three people were killed in Russian drone and missile attacks in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and Kupiansk, according to local leaders.